A surreal manifesto for peace: Reviewing “The Cyclops Bomb” by Guram Odisharia4 min read
In his fourth novel The Cyclops Bomb, Guram Odisharia paints a vivid, vicious, and absurd picture of a country at conflict with itself.
Structured as a series of short episodes, The Cyclops Bomb focuses on Irakli, a Georgian TV cameraman covering a range of topics in the Caucasus, from beauty competitions to bomb raids. His personal mission, however, is to find and kill the last of his father’s murderers with his pistol, nicknamed Pietro Beretta. Interspersed between these main vignettes are ten letters between the narrator and his French lover Claudia; monologues from a staged production of “The Cyclops Bomb;” and exchanges between the narrator and his son, Lasha. Originally published as სათვალიანი ბომბი in 2009, this edition, translated by David Foreman, is the first time the novel has appeared in English.
In many ways, the novel can be read as Odisharia’s manifesto for peace. The majority of the segments revolve around the violence conflict brings, and Odisharia depicts it all in grisly detail. This is not a novel for those with a weak stomach, or those who wish to turn a blind eye to the devastation and brutality of war.
Though war is the main form of conflict in the book, Odisharia also pays attention to political conflict. As Irakli notes at one point, “I lived in a country which was not able to accommodate the energy of a president and presidential candidates, and they were compelled to declare themselves messiahs to the whole world.” Whether it be Stalin or Saakashvili, Odisharia shows the danger of putting all one’s hopes and fears onto one leader. In repeated exchanges to his father, Lasha lashes out at Georgia’s hypocrisy, exclaiming how political personalities have taken over the playing field in a country ruled via TV, just as the Communist Party once used to govern. In an apt comparison, he likens Rustaveli Avenue, the main site where protestors gather to “either toss out presidents, or to appoint them,” to the Bureau of the Central Committee in Communist times.
Odisharia also connects the country’s internal politics with its approach to its actual conflicts, having Lasha write to Irakli that “You are concerned about territorial integrity, but not about your own tangled moral and mental integrity.” Given that The Cyclops Bomb was written during the 2008 Russo-Georgian War, these are all befitting warnings indeed.
While Odisharia concretely and accurately portrays conflict in the Caucasus, there is also a feeling of the surreal or absurd throughout the novel. The beretta, a tree on Rustaveli, and a stray dog all narrate several pages, providing their own perspectives on the conflict surrounding them. By the end of the book, Tbilisi is flooded with wine and mineral water, carrying away everything from ancient Persian carpets to plastic Christmas trees.
In the novel, Irakli is the only truly fleshed out character present, and even then, only to a certain extent. This is largely due to the novel’s structure, which emphasises quick, and hard-hitting imagery through short vignettes rather than deep character development. Some characters seem secondary to the plot, such as Claudia who acts as the classic, exotic fantasy for male readers. While these weaknesses exist, and do lessen the quality of the work as a whole, The Cyclops Bomb is still a compelling read for those interested in gaining more insight into conflicts in the Caucasus.
The novel, dedicated to TV cameramen of all nations, is an homage to Odisharia’s own history as a journalist. Odisharia was born in 1951 in Sukhumi (Sokhumi), then-capital of the Abkhazian ASSR. In his youth, he worked as a correspondent for Abkhazian radio broadcasting, as a journalist with an Abkhazian regional newspaper, and as a literary consultant for the Abkhazian Writers’ Union, among other things. Following the war, Odisharia was forced to leave Abkhazia in 1993, navigating the difficult Saken-Chuberi pass, where hundreds died of cold and exhaustion. Since his displacement to Tbilisi, Odisharia has been involved in peace activism, as well as working for two years as the Minister of Culture and Monument Protection of Georgia.
Book details: Odisharia, Guram, The Cyclops Bomb: A Novel, translated by David Foreman, 2013, Favorite Print. Buy it here.